Country Star Delivers on a Promise

Country Star Delivers on a Promise
Photo: Benoit & Associates
Country Star

by Alan Porter 

Excellent as it was, Empire Maker's racing career couldn’t help but leave a feeling of promise unfulfilled.

Winner of a maiden race and third in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) in two starts at 2, the son of Unbridled finished second in the Sham Stakes on his 3-year-old debut, causing trainer Bobby Frankel to add blinkers. The new equipment in place, Empire Maker took the Florida Derby (gr. I) by 9 3/4 lengths, then confirmed himself as a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) by taking the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) in a good battle with Funny Cide. Empire Maker was destined to start as the favorite for the Derby, but the Tuesday before the race he returned from a jog favoring his right front foot. While what turned out to be a bruised heel had healed sufficiently for Empire Maker to take his place in the lineup, the colt did miss two days of galloping, walking in the shedrow on Wednesday and jogging on Thursday. Empire Maker looked a likely winner when looming up on the outside of Funny Cide turning for home, but his run flattened out as the New York-bred gelding drew off to score by 1 3/4 lengths. Triple Crown hopes now ended, Empire Maker skipped the Preakness but returned in the Belmont Stakes (both gr. I), and defeated Ten Most Wantedwith Funny Cide in third. Empire Maker prepped for the Travers Stakes (gr. I) in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II), but what looked like an overconfident ride saw him fall a neck short of catching Strong Hope. Empire Maker then missed the Travers due to a cough, and retired at the end of the year without starting again.

If Empire Maker’s career as a runner left his connections to speculate on what might have been – trainer Bobby Frankel described him as the best he had trained, many lengths better than he was able to show – his career as a stallion is rapidly beginning to shape as if to fulfill that unrealized potential through his offspring. By the start of this year’s September sales, Empire Maker had been represented by only three first crop starters and one winner – Anna M. Fisher Debutante Stakes victress Miss Red Delicious – but that statistic had to be considered in the light of the fact that Empire Maker himself didn’t make his first start as a 2-year-old until Oct. 20.

As it turned out, Empire Maker didn’t have to wait that long for his first major winner as a sire. On Oct. 5, his daughter Country Star, making only her second start, broke her maiden in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I). Since then, momentum has continued to pick up. On Nov.24, one Empire Maker daughter, Mushka, took the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) in impressive style, and another, Turn Away, was third after a hair-raising trip in the Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II). Three weeks later, Country Star staked a claim to the juvenile filly championship with a track record-breaking win in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I) at Hollywood Park. All of Empire Maker’s stakes horses to date are fillies, but he has a couple of promising colts in Roman Emperor, who has won his last two races by a total of 10 1/2 lengths, and Unspoken Fur, a son of the Notebook mare Spoken Fur, who took his maiden at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in good style.

Country Star’s dam Rings a Chime was also a talented runner. A Washington-bred daughter of the Seattle Slew stallion Metfield, she was a $26,000 Washington Thoroughbred Breeders sale yearling. Rings a Chime won the Bay Meadows Lassie Stakes at 2, but was much better at 3, when she captured the Ashland Stakes and took second in the Kentucky Oaks and third in the Las Virgenes Stakes (all gr. I). Prior to Country Star, Rings a Chime produced a Kingmambo filly who was a winner last year at 2, and Black Cat Crossing, a colt by Storm Catwho realized $3.1 million as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, and who has run once in Ireland, finishing unplaced. Rings a Chime’s dam, Outofthebluebell, won the Matt Winn Handicap at Balmoral Park and was listed stakes placed, but she and Rings a Chime are the only previous stakes winners under the first four dams on this page. Ultimately, the family goes back to the Prioress Stakes and Colonial Handicap winner Itsabet, the sixth dam of Rings a Chime, and better known as the ancestress of such celebrities as Giant’s Causeway, Sookera, Leroidesanimaux (BRZ), Dearly Precious, Banks Hill (GB), Intercontinental (GB), Dansili (GB), Cacique (IRE), Heat Haze (GB), and Three Valleys.

The cross that produced Country Star – that of Unbridled and his sons with Seattle Slew line mares – has not been a prolific one, producing only a handful of stakes winners, with Country Star being the only grade I scorer. There are two factors to consider here, however. One is that Empire Maker’s dam, the recently retired Toussaud, potentially makes a difference in the equation. Herself a grade I winner, Toussaud produced grade I winners Empire Maker, Honest Lady, Chester House, and Chiselling, and grade II winner Decarchy  . Honest Lady, a winner of four graded stakes including the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I), and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I), is by Seattle Slew, so there was always the chance that Empire Maker would be suited by Seattle Slew line mares. (Incidentally, Toussaud’s sister Navarra is dam of a graded stakes winner by Seattle Slew’s son A.P. Indy, and Honest Lady herself produced the speedy stakes winner and grade I placed performer First Defence to another son of Unbridled, Unbridled’s Song, giving a very similar background.)

The key is probably the fact that Toussaud’s sire, El Gran Senor, is out of a mare inbred 2 x 3 to the La Troienne-family three-parts sister and brother Busanda and Mr. Busher, while Seattle Slew’s dam has Busher and Striking (sisters to Mr. Busher) 3 x 3.

It also shouldn’t be overlooked that Country Star’s granddam is by Mr. Prospector’s unraced brother Red Ryder, giving Country Star a 4 x 3 duplication of the siblings. In fact the relationships involved are somewhat closer, as Empire Maker’s grandsire, Fappiano, is by Mr. Prospector out of a mare by Dr. Fager, and Country Star’s granddam, Outofthebluebell, is by Red Ryder, and has a second dam by Minnesota Mac, a son of Dr. Fager’s sire, Rough’n Tumble.

Some of the elements here are reshuffled in the pedigree of Empire Maker’s other graded winner, Mushka, who is out of a Seeking the Goldmare (giving doubles of Mr. Prospector and Buckpasser) and who has a second dam by Seattle Slew.

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